Time for a distro?

There are many flavors of FreePBX distributions that make up the huge installed base of FreePBX and as such, we have discussed the wisdom of creating a FreePBX distro for years. The range of options span from AsteriskNOW to the likes of trixbox who packages FreePBX with a name change to keep their branding. (Whether or not trixbox will be around much longer, ??? – more on that.) As this space has evolved, tighter security and other integration spanning FreePBX and the underlying distro has become more important to provide a great user experience and we feel it is critical to the continued success of this great product.

We have watched the dynamics change on the distro front with different flavors of distros available with varying focuses and appealing to different needs of this community. One of the biggest distros, albeit one that masks the FreePBX name to emphasize their branding, has recently made moves hinting they will no longer be investing in the FreePBX space. As a result, we thought we would tell you about what we’ve been up to for some time now. Call it a pre-announcement or what ever you will but we want to make sure that everyone feels confident that the FreePBX space is live and kicking with lots of great things still coming down the pipe, now on the distro front in addition to all the great stuff you’ve been hearing about with FreePBX 2.9!

For those of you who don’t know Schmooze Com, Inc. they are one of the biggest FreePBX resellers as well as the largest corporate FreePBX contributor outside of Bandwidth.com. They put in a significant amount of development on the FreePBX project as well as many of the Aastra XML applications that many of you are familiar with. They run a multi-tiered distribution channel with their own branded FreePBX distribution in a setting that requires the same 24×7 support options and infrastructure as any mainstream PBX vendor requires. As such, they have been in the distro business for years with hundreds of systems in their own installed base. They’ve also been the primary partner on the FreePBX support side and as a result, between Schmooze and our own experience we have a unique view of many key ingredients that should be emphasized in the PBX distro space as well as first hand experience with the various weak links in many of the mainstream FreePBX distros as a result of the hundreds of support customers that we have served using these platforms.

So … we are pleased to tell you that we have teamed up and are leveraging this very strong partnership with Schmooze to bring forward a first class distro that will be fully supported by the FreePBX project! For those of you who are wondering where you go next with the de-investment on the trixbox platform rest assured that there will be a first rate landing place and we’ll also investigate transition aids to help you get here easier. There are some key areas that are of primary focus we have been looking at from the FreePBX distro perspective. At the top of our list are security, streamlined GUI integration and tighter Asterisk integration.

On the security front you’ll see new approaches to assure that no standard passwords are floating around the internet making it easy for hackers to automatically find and exploit open systems as is so often the case today. The tighter GUI integration will present a single GUI view vs. the often cobbled together GUI in a GUI integration that is sometimes the case. We’ve coupled this tighter integration with new ways to approach security holes that are sometimes left vulnerable on some distros that have potentially dangerous root level sudo access to various linux commands provided to allow the GUIs to do their thing. On the Asterisk level we will be providing a yum (rpm) based approach to allow simple to manage packages on your system but with a slight twist. We’ve often run into issues where some critical patches are needed on Asterisk which are making their way on the Asterisk bug tracker but because of conflicting priorities, not always quick enough to address your needs. As a result, we will be providing some of these patches pre-built into the Asterisk rpms that we make available. This provides a great benefit for many of the users saving you from the manual and error prone process of patchong your own versions of Asterisk which often involves installing full copies and breaking the RPMs that your distro may be providing today.

We are very excited about this progression and will fill you in with more over the coming weeks. We’ll also let you know how you can get an early copy to start evaluating shortly though if you can’t wait that long, feel free to ping me and when I get back from a short vacation (I’m on the plane now 🙂 (Or come on over to our [url=/open-telephony-training-seminar]FreePBX Training in May[/url] and get a first hand view of what is going on!) I’ll see what I can do. There are still several distros out there with their own value adds and flavors so rest assured that as a development team, we are still fully dedicated to the continued development and greater FreePBX community that helps make this such a great project. For those of you who may be looking for alternatives though with some of the coming changes in this space, we will be very happy to welcome you on board!

[b]Philippe[/b] – On behalf of the FreePBX and Schmooze team!

19 thoughts on “Time for a distro?

  1. Greetings …

    One of the reason I like AsteriskNOW/CentOS, not that it’s a rpm base distro, but that is has many PBX hardware drivers, like TDM, DAHDI and mISDN stuff already buildt and packaged, without needing to build these, make a way lean. Plus many of the drivers can be installed from third party compatible repos, like ELRepo and the like.

    Debian and Ubuntu, from what I have seen does not have these kmod packages, which makes life way easier.

    Thanks
    Mailed
    LeeT

  2. there will be a freepbx sysadmin module that handles the primary syadmin things that are often done in guis like webmin, but in a way that is integrated with FreePBX/Asterisk and the general PBX functionalities. (And designed to work with the FreePBX Distro setup).

    So for the 95% case, there will probably be no need to load something like webmin and for the 5% case, you will likely get a user level that would prefer to do their thing in a terminal window vs. a gui anyhow.

  3. It seems that most of the ‘asterisk / freepbx’ ‘distros’ seem to come from people familiar with rpm based systems .

    the reason I like Debian is that modifications we make to config files are never touched upgrades [ unless i choose to do so].

    Most ‘asterisk distros ‘ end up using webmin. That makes for two gui systems and complexity dealing with /etc config files.

    freepbx + a stable operating system with little else running on it make for a great phone system.

    I have not used rpm [redhat] based systems in awhile – i gave up 7 years ago when i ran into some rpm upgrade hell issues – which do not exist in Debian stable. probably those issues have left centos/redhat.

    from what I’ve read – Centos is very stable. maybe it is just adding webmin on top then trying to do upgrades.

    Elastix is ok, but I do not use it as it has a gui on top of a gui. One gui system is enough.

  4. It would be fantastic to see a link to the alpha distro ISO for some of the more experienced/dev oriented users to poke around in and see how it looks.

    I think its a great idea!

  5. Greetings …

    I follow FreePBX dev because I have deployed a few SME PBX. FreePBX makes it really easy to manage and I thank all the people involved. I generally use AsteriskNOW as my base and upgrade many parts that exist in CentOS eco system to help me improve management of these servers. I would like to say that a Distro that customizes as little as possible, so that waiting for updates take the shortest time possible. AsteriskNOW is great, but they will not take updates that would improve the distro for everyone. I’m sure many people are watching this space very closely, as I will be and hope the best will come out of this.

    Best of luck
    Thanks
    Mailed
    LeeT

  6. For most instances, I prefer a lean install. Over the years. when I need one or more of the wonderful Piaf apps, I install it. On the other hand I have been using AsteriskNow or hand building for all other installs. While I have installed and maintained Schmooze PBXact systems over the years, ( disclosure time ) six months ago I got hired by a large Schmooze reseller and am kept busy turning up several systems ( hosted and premise ) each week.

    My view is from the trenches and I seriously appreciate what goes on behind the scenes symbiotically between Philippe, the Asterisk community, Schmoozecom and beyond. It is not easy to keep everyone talking and on an even keel.

    I have to know that what I am deploying is absolutely stable. No exceptions. And I always have great success with the systems I deploy from Tony and Crew. These guys maintain a huge number of systems and their experience is expansive and realtime.

    As for the ISO, I have been lucky enough to have tried the alphas and I do like it. Primarily because I am quite familiar with the underpinnings and it is well thought out as to dependencies for extending Asterisk and FreePBX and things of that nature. So, IMHO a great starting place.

    My ( jaded ) two cents…

  7. I’ve used FreePBX back to the AMP days.
    I’m all for a distro done by the FreePBX guys. There are subtle and not so subtle differences in which FreePBX and Asterisk interface with the various distros.

    If there is a FreePBX distro, it and the kernel as well as “*” will be optimized to work with each other making a more stable and smoother distro.

    If you scan through this forum, you’ll see numerous questions that problems result from using different distros, flavors of linux,etc. The answer is usually something like this: “When you are using that distro you have to modify such and such a file for that feature to work properly.” I really don’t have time for that.

    A “standard” distro, developed by the folks that develop free pbx would be welcomed.

  8. We are using Asterisk and FreePbx on Debian server. It would be very interesting to have this distro on Debian too. I don’t know if it is very difficult to have a distro in two different Linux environnements.
  9. Amen to p_lindheimer’s comment re Elastix.

    Its like wearing a strait jacket. We did try every flavour of distro we could find mid last year and ended up with staying with EasyVoxBox – perhaps because we know and trust it.

    Fingers crossed for new FPBX distro. and 2600Hz project which looks good but is a bit tough for every day use just yet.

  10. That’s a great news.

    Can you give us a link to download a alpha or beta, i want to try this new distro.

    For ianrowley ( easyvoxbox ) , if you want something like easyvoxbox look at Elastix is nearly the same.

    Or if Philippe is ok try the new Freepbx distro.

  11. Elastix is a very good distribution that doesn’t hide the fact it uses FreePBX. Most people I know have moved on from Trixbox to Elastix. Personally I think a FreePBX distro can only mean more fragmentation it would be better to remain focused on just FreePBX itself.

    Personally I like using Debian & FreePBX as I prefer to know my server inside out and not have any extra software installed than there needs to be.

  12. homedonk,

    FreePBX will always be available as is, a piece of software supported on most Linux varieties for those users who want it that way.

    However, there is a wide variety of users and demands out there and this is one that is requested of us on a regular basis and we now have a ‘formula’ that will be able to deliver it without taxing the normal FreePBX development resources so it is a great win for the project.

  13. Other than Trixbox, none of the other distributions remove the FreePBX (or Asterisk) branding.

    Elastix is a good distro and fits the needs of a lot of people. However, contrary to your preferences (lean and mean) Elastix layers a lot of things on top of it (which is great for the user base looking for those).

    However, it also results in a fairly fragile distro that is more likely to have things break when trying to upgrade various components and as a result, very few Elastix users doing things like upgrade FreePBX or participate in beta test programs such as the current 2.9. (In the case of Elastix, you need to break out of the embedded mode to even hit Module Admin and get any updates at all).

    So … the new distro will have it’s place just like the likes of Elastix and others, it will appeal to some and not to others. It’s the beauty of having choices that offer different benefits to different user needs.

  14. I don’t see the point. You should know how to set up a box if you want to run asterisk on it. Besides, usually people want to run other stuff as well, so they would want to do that on a linux flavour they know well, not the flavor the freepbx + schmooze team picks.
    If you want to go the ” a distro, that does it all” road: doesn’t that need much more attention on the other stuff besides freepbx? Do you have that much spare rescources?
  15. Great idea but please look at the old and abandoned EasyVoxBox features. The user interface just works! Pity the guy gave up.

    We still use that and have upgraded under EVB because it offers just what our office needs: easy access to the panel to see who is calling and easy access to the reports page to see who just called. And then all the other features needed to support Asterisk and FPBX are there and we get SAMBA controls thrown in as well.

    The only thing we find unnecessary ( and this is just us) is the free CRM package.

    We tried AsteriskNow (we also have tried to use TrixBox a few times but the bizarre licensing and goodies seemed to miss the point ) and several other distros last year and always gave up as the much vaunted user interface only addressed real-time calls and handling – whereas quickly knowing who just called is vital in a small office.

    We would like to move on from EVB – there is no development but we suspect we will still be using it a year or so from now until we can’t upgrade FPBX under it.

  16. It would be better if you offered a full ISO download as well as the net-installer/kickstart ISO.

    My chosen nettop uses an Atheros ATLxxx ethernet chip which isn’t recognised by CentOS.
    I have two RPM packages (ath1xxx-kmod.rpm, and module-inittoolsxxx.rpm) which I install to enable the driver.
    I can’t find a kickstart-friendly “Driver Disk” for this.

    The only way I could get the distribution installed, was to install on a different machine and then transplant the hard drive back into my nettop, at which point I was able to “rpm -Uvh” the two RPMs for my ethernet driver.

    Also, you, and the PiAF folks, and the sipXecs folks, should all consider allowing choice of hard disk during the kickstart setup, instead of just blindly trying to use/wipe any available drive. I use a special USB-CDROM emulating external hard drive. I put ISO files on it, and it emulates a USB CDROM drive. Perfect for, erm.. ISO files.. It also presents itself as a hard drive to the host machine. Your installer tries to wipe the hard drive part of it. Thankfully it has a write-protect switch for the hard drive, but this results in your installer hanging.

    I realise this might sound like unusual circumstances, but I strongly suspect that any remotely tech-savvy person, who has access to one of these devices, would be using it rather than burning disks. Therefore I think it’s reasonable for you to consider it when writing your kickstart scripts.

    BTW, the “USB CD-ROM emulating external hard drive” that I’m talking about is this one:
    http://www.hitechlegion.com/reviews/storage/hdenclose/8517-zalman-zm-ve200-hdd-enclosure

    (mine’s an “iODD virtual rom”.. same thing).

    cheers, and thanks for the great work.

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